As you’ve probably realized by now, I’m not a proponent of big government, which is the cause of crony capitalism in our medicine, healthcare system, and economy in general. I think we would all be healthier and happier with less government meddling in our lives. We’d even be safer! In fact, the data show that government safety mandates actually make us less safe. Let me explain…
For years, I was a strong proponent of using seatbelts at any and all times inside an automobile. But then I began to witness how governments use auto safety laws to simply pick the low-hanging fruit, harassing innocent citizens with ever more “traffic violations” as a means to further swell their coffers and increase their power and control.
Plus, do they really keep us safer?
When I went to work in Washington D.C., in the Reagan Administration, I vividly remember congressional testimony given by my colleague, Dr. Jim Mason, who was Director of the CDC. (He subsequently became U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health.)
At one point, a member of Congress asked Dr. Mason about the merits of providing “abortion on demand,” by having the government pay for them. The congressman asked, wouldn’t it just increase the number of unwanted pregnancies? Dr. Mason answered, “That’s like saying putting seat belts in automobiles would increase the number of accidents.” It got a good laugh in the chamber. But was the congressman onto something?
In a similar story, I recall talking to the father of Laurie Kunkel, one of our graduate student assistants at the Medical Examiner Office in Miami. Laurie’s father was a long-time insurance agent who believed that the then-new safety legislation to require airbags in automobiles would actually increase the number of motor vehicle accidents.
So — did the congressman and Laurie’s dad hit the target? Do new government safety mandates encourage the “at risk” population to act with greater recklessness?
Government safety mandates don’t work
Turns out, after Congress first passed auto safety legislation during the 1960s requiring seatbelts and padded dashboards, auto accidents actually did increase.
The drivers were lulled into thinking the new government measures would somehow keep them “safe.” They had less of an incentive to take personal responsibility and drive safely.
Everything has a cost and a benefit — something Congress clearly can’t competently assess, as illustrated by their handling of health insurance legislation over the past eight years.
Yes, seatbelt laws helped reduce the number of deaths per accident. But the number of accidents increased — thus, cancelling out the benefit and adding a lot of other costs, damages and inconveniences.
The Peltzman Effect
Dr. Samuel Peltzman at University of Chicago actually calculated that government auto safety laws have a zero-sum gain. “The Peltzman Effect” explains how safety mandates negatively incentivize people. They increase risky behavior in response to the reduced personal costs of engaging in that behavior.
You can even apply the same principle to football safety…
Back when I based my consulting forensic medical practice in Pennsylvania, I had some cases that had been investigated by Dr. Bennett Omalu, the Medical Examiner of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh). It turns out Dr. Omalu was very well-versed in head injury. (But he let a few things get by him when it came to reaching conclusions regarding other causes of death in a few cases that had to be straightened out.) His landmark research on head injury in NFL players has become a celebrated cause and the subject of a Hollywood movie.
Oddly, rugby players, who wear no protective gear, actually have lower risks of injuries. An article in American Heritage magazine reports that introducing football helmets in the 1950s reduced some head injury, but tripled the number of neck injuries and doubled deaths from spinal injuries. The same held true for hockey players.
The tendency of people to react to a safety regulation by increasing other risky behavior also applies to drinking and driving.
Governments continue to inch down blood-alcohol limits ever lower and lower. Yet deadly accidents involving excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs have risen.
When I served as a Medical Examiner in Miami-Dade County, Florida, during the mid-1980s, the fatal motor vehicle accidents I investigated almost always involved excessive speed, excessive alcohol, or typically a deadly combination of the two. Excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t refer to the proverbial “one too many” that the government keeps ratcheting down on all of us. It refers to about a “dozen too many” among real “problem-drinkers.”
The Peltzman Effect has been shown in thousands of economic studies and never been refuted. Nevertheless, the government persists in trying to provide mandated “guarantees” of safety and health that actually incentivize the wrong behaviors. They just guarantee more problems, more damages, and more costs for everyone — as well as more and more intrusion into our personal lives for no net benefits.
The latest government-mandated disaster appears to be “environmentally safe” construction materials that are anything but safe in causing fatal residential fires.
The government places us all at risk whenever they try to protect us with new politically-correct mandates. It puts a deadly, new twist on the old aphorism,
“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”
Use your own common sense as your guide. And keep reading my Daily Dispatch and Insiders’ Cures newsletter to stay informed about the real facts for living a long, healthy — and safe — life. If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one.